Irv Zuckerman was interviewed by David Schlitt on June 6, 2011 at the Yiddish Book Center.
Irv Zuckerman’s interview starts with a riveting story about how his name became Irving in the first grade. The vivacity with which Irv begins his interview stays consistent as Irv provides incredible details during each story he shares. The first portion of the interview focuses on Irv’s life growing up as the child of a Russian emigrant mother and a Polish emigrant father in the Bronx in Brooklyn, New York. Irv describes with incredible clarity his disdain for school and the ways in which he integrated his father’s socialist politics into his own childhood acts. Irv goes on to describe his father’s work as a milliner, and his family’s attempt at running a boarding house in Brighton Beach.
Irv goes on to discuss his decision to join the army after finishing high school in 1941. Driven by an important experience with German Jews in his high school, Irv was determined to do his part to help save the Jews of Europe. Though his mother disagreed, Irv signed up to join the army and was sent abroad as an infantry man. This section of Irv’s interview is filled with difficult stories of army anti-Semitism, humorous anecdotes of Irv’s clumsiness as a foot solider, and heart wrenching memories of liberating a camp near Rennes, France. Within these intense moments, Irv shares how he returned to Judaism, realizing that euphemisms were no longer his cup of tea—he was a Jew.
Leaving those difficult memories, Irv spends the middle section of the interview sharing his life’s work helping eradicate bigotry in the workplace. Irv weaves in and out of stories about his work helping immigrants from the Soviet Union find jobs to discussions with CEOs that made anti-Semitic jokes while asking for his advice. This section of the interview moves from Irv’s adulthood, back to his time in the army, and even touches on details of his childhood he associates with his later life.
The last twenty minutes of the interview focuses heavily on Irv’s work as an army radio personality. Like much of Irv’s interview, incredibly fascinating stories are linked both to Irv’s childhood and the greater Jewish American population with ease. Before the interview ends, Irv spends time sharing the story of how he and his wife met and received his mother’s blessing. Irv ends his interview giving poignant advice: Always believe in who are you.
To learn more about the Wexler Oral History Project, visit: http://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/tell-your-story